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Consumers Attracted by Health Benefits (January 25, 2005)

vinegar drinks photo
A consumer selects a vinegar drink (Jiji)
Vinegar, known as o-su in Japanese, has long been an important ingredient in Japanese cuisine. It is the condiment that gives the rice in sushi its sharp flavor, for example. What is more, vinegar is considered to be good for the health, particularly for improving circulation and countering fatigue. Now more and more Japanese are seeking the benefits of vinegar not only by eating food containing it but by drinking vinegar-based beverages. Further fueled by reports that rice vinegar is effective in promoting weight loss, a wide range of vinegar-based drinks have hit the market recently.

Fruit Vinegar
At the forefront of the vinegar-drinking trend are fruit vinegar beverages. Diluted with water, these are like juice but are made from fermented fruits, such as apples, grapes, or raspberries. The beverages have been a particular hit among women in their twenties and thirties. Sales have more than doubled over the last year or two, according to a major vinegar manufacturer.

The other form of drinkable vinegar is kurozu ("black vinegar"), which has gained popularity mainly among middle-aged people. This type of vinegar takes from one to three years to ferment, considerably longer than regular vinegar. Like most other types of Japanese vinegar, it is made from polished or unpolished rice, rather than fruit.

During the fermentation process, the vinegar darkens as it matures. At the same time, according to its manufacturers, its flavor and aroma become more intense, while the quantities of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, and other beneficial substances in the vinegar increase.

Drinking vinegar-based beverages may not be everyone's cup of tea, which is why many vinegar and beverage makers have been busy coming up with ways of making their products as palatable as possible. It is a necessary task, given that conventional vinegar cannot be drunk because its strong properties may cause stomachache.

In an effort to demonstrate that the new products can be a pleasure to drink, one established vinegar producer has set up its own retail shops inside department stores in Yokohama, Nagoya, and other big cities. The shops' staff act as "vinegar sommeliers," explaining to customers the various new ways of enjoying vinegar, such as combining it with yogurt or ice cream. Each day, the company's Yokohama outlet sells around 500 bottles of beverages made from fruit vinegar mixed with fruit juice, each priced at around ¥1,300 ($13 at ¥100 to the dollar). The vast majority of customers at the shops are women.

Vinegar Water
Competition in the vinegar drink market is expected to hot up in 2005 as vinegar and beverage makers begin marketing their products to a wider group of consumers.

Most of the fruit vinegar and black vinegar beverages are diluted with water before drinking. Makers now plan to offer "vinegar water," which simply combines water and vinegar and does not need to be diluted. Plastic bottles of vinegar water will be sold in convenience stores alongside soft drinks and juices. Although these drinks contain only about 1% vinegar, they are sure to prove popular, as vinegar-based beverages have firmly established themselves as health drinks in the minds of many consumers.

Vinegar drinks are the latest in a line of health drinks that have caught the public's imagination. The previous boom was for drinks containing amino acids, but when this trend ran out of steam the market suffered from a dearth of hit products. Now the introduction of vinegar drinks offers the promise of reinvigorating the health-drink market.

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Copyright (c) 2005 Web Japan. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.

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